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First Thoughts: December is for deadlines

December is for deadlines: Three deadlines to watch next month… Reid appears to give Obama wiggle room on sanctions… Obama: “We cannot close the door on diplomacy”… As Karzai moves goalposts, U.S. threatens 100% withdrawal… Liz Cheney up with another TV ad featuring daughters… FL GOP calls on Radel to resign. Does Boehner follow?... And Happy Thanksgiving. We’ll be back on Monday.*
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December is for deadlines: Three deadlines to watch next month… Reid appears to give Obama wiggle room on sanctions… Obama: “We cannot close the door on diplomacy”… As Karzai moves goalposts, U.S. threatens 100% withdrawal… Liz Cheney up with another TV ad featuring daughters… FL GOP calls on Radel to resign. Does Boehner follow?... And Happy Thanksgiving. We’ll be back on Monday.

*** December is for deadlines: As you begin preparing for your Thanksgiving meal, all the leftovers (plus the extra weight), and your holiday shopping lists, here is a helpful reminder: December is for deadlines. Indeed, there are at least three key political deadlines coming up next month. The biggest, of course, is the Obama administration’s self-imposed deadline to have the federal health-care website working better for a “vast majority” of users after Nov. 30 -- so come Dec. 1, it needs to prove to jittery Democrats and insurance companies that things are better. (Cyber Monday, in particular, won’t just be about ordering holiday gifts on Amazon, but seeing if one can use the health insurance marketplace.) The next deadline is Dec. 13, when House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R) and Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (D) are supposed to produce the compromise conference report on the budget negotiations; By the way, congressional appropriators are very itchy to get at least a topline number from Ryan-Murray to find out if Sequester 2 is really going to kick in. And the third December deadline that’s in the news is National Security Adviser Susan Rice’s threat that if Afghan President Karzai doesn’t sign the bilateral security agreement by the end of the year, then the United States would prepare for 100% withdrawal from the country in 2014. More on Karzai below…

*** Reid appears to give Obama wiggle room on sanctions: Yesterday, we wondered if Congress would soon send President Obama additional sanctions on Iran (which he would be forced to veto to uphold the short-term deal with that Middle East nation), or if the sanctions would be triggered in a way to come AFTER the six-month deal expires. Well, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid appeared to give the Obama administration a little wiggle room. “I said when we come back we will take a look at this to see if we need stronger sanctions, and that’s why when we come back I am going to look at Tim Johnson, chairman of the banking committee that has jurisdiction over this, and Bob Menendez of the foreign relations committee, and they will do what they are supposed to do,” Reid told NPR’s Diane Rehm. “They will study this, they will hold hearings if necessary, and if we need work on this, if we need stronger sanctions I am sure we will do that.  So I look forward to input from both the majority and minority when I get back there and we will move forward appropriately.” Pay attention to Reid’s “if we need stronger sanctions” line. That’s good news if you’re the White House, because all they’re hoping for is a little more time.

*** “We cannot close the door on diplomacy”: Meanwhile, before he spoke on immigration yesterday (and before he got heckled), Obama defended the short-term deal Western countries cut with Iran. “I firmly believe in what President Kennedy once said:  He said, ‘Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.’  I believe that... we cannot close the door on diplomacy.  And we cannot rule out peaceful solutions to the world’s problems.  We cannot commit ourselves to an endless cycle of conflict.  And tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically, but it’s not the right thing for our security.  It is not the right thing for our security.  Don’t miss this tick tock about John Kerry’s role in the secret back channel talks with Iran. It appears Kerry got some early practice at being secretary of state when he was still in the Senate, dispatched on a secret mission to Oman back in 2011.

*** As Karzai moves goalposts, U.S. threatens 100% withdrawal: Regarding that other thorny international story -- Afghanistan -- it appears that President Karzai is attempting the blow up the deal that APPEARED to be green-lighted last week. “Efforts by the United States and Afghanistan to finalize a long-term security arrangement appeared on the brink of collapse Monday as Afghan President Hamid Karzai made a new set of demands, and the Obama administration said it would be forced to begin planning for a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces at the end of 2014,” the Washington Post writes. “In a two-hour meeting here, Susan E. Rice, President Obama’s top national security adviser, told Karzai that if he failed to sign the bilateral security agreement by the end of this year, the United States would have ‘no choice’ but to prepare for withdrawal, according to a statement by the National Security Council in Washington.” More from the Post: “Karzai told Rice that he would sign only after the United States helps his government begin peace talks with the Taliban and agrees to release all 17 Afghan citizens being held in the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.” Remember, Karzai needs U.S. troops to stay simply for security reasons. What he may not understand is how little political support there is for the U.S. to keep a significant presence in the country. It’s not like the public would be upset at lawmakers or the president if there somehow was no military presence in Afghanistan post 2014.

*** All in the Family: Liz Cheney is up with her second-straight TV ad featuring her daughters as a way to emphasize her Wyoming roots in her Republican primary challenge against incumbent Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY). Remember, Liz Cheney and her family had previously lived in Northern Virginia before returning to Wyoming. Strikingly, Cheney highlighting her family in her TV ads comes as she finds herself in a high-profile dispute with her gay sister, Mary Cheney, over gay marriage.

*** FL GOP leader calls on Radel to resign: Last week, we poised the question why House Republican leaders forced ex-Rep. Chris Lee (the shirtless photo guy) to resign, but hadn’t done the same to Rep. Trey Radel (the cocaine possession guy). Well, last night the Florida Republican Party became the first notable GOP institution to call on Radel to give up his office. "The people of Florida's 19th Congressional District need a congressman who is 100% focused on the needs of Southwest Florida. Therefore, Congressman Radel should step down and focus his attention on rehabilitation and his family," Florida GOP Chair Lenny Curry said in a statement. A couple of local FL GOP leaders followed suit. Don’t be surprised if House leadership now jumps on board, too. After all, Boehner said it was up to Radel’s constituents what happened next. Well, high profile constituents are now calling for resignation. Hard for Boehner et al to stay quiet now.  

*** Happy Thanksgiving: With the Thanksgiving holiday coming up, your morning First Read/First Thoughts column will be off Wednesday through Friday. We’ll be back next Monday, but -- as always -- we’ll update the website if news warrants. Have a great holiday. 

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